How to Know When to Harvest Honey from Your Beehive
Generally speaking, beekeepers harvest their honey at the conclusion of a substantial nectar flow and when the beehive is filled with cured and capped honey. Conditions and circumstances vary greatly across the country. First-year beekeepers are lucky if they get a small harvest of honey by late summer. That’s because a new colony needs a full season to build up a large enough population to gather a surplus of honey.
Take a peek under the hive cover every couple of weeks during summer. Note what kind of progress your bees are making and find out how many of the frames are filled with capped honey.
When a shallow frame contains 80 percent or more of sealed, capped honey, you’re welcome to remove and harvest this frame. Or, you can practice patience, leave your frames on and wait until one of the following is true:
The bees have filled all the frames with capped honey.
The last major nectar flow of the season is complete.Here’s a beautiful frame of capped honey ready to be harvested.
Honey in open cells (not capped with wax) can be extracted if it is cured. To see if it’s cured, turn the frame with the cells facing the ground. Give the frame a gentle shake. If honey leaks from the cells, it isn’t cured and shouldn’t be extracted. This stuff is not even honey. It’s nectar that hasn’t been cured. The water content is too high for it to be considered honey. Attempting to bottle the nectar results in watery syrup that is likely to ferment and spoil.
You want to wait until the bees have gathered all the honey they can, so be patient. That’s a virtue. However, don’t leave the honey supers on the hive too long! Things tend to get busy around Labor Day. Besides spending a weekend harvesting your honey, you probably have plenty of other things to do. But don’t put off what must be done. If you wait too long, one of the following two undesirable situations can occur:
After the last major nectar flow and winter looms on the distant horizon, bees begin consuming the honey they’ve made. If you leave supers on the hive long enough, the bees will eat much of the honey you’d hoped to harvest. Or they will start moving it to open cells in the lower deep hive bodies. Either way, you have lost the honey that should have been yours. Get those supers off the hive before that happens!
If you wait too long to remove your supers, the weather turns too cold to harvest your honey. In cool weather, honey can thicken or even granulate, which makes it impossible to extract from the comb. Remember that honey is easiest to harvest when it still holds the warmth of summer and can flow easily.